First things first: despite being smaller in size and – seemingly – audience, the London International Wine Fair was a busier event than I and many others expected. Some exhibitors said they had had a very good couple of days, though, worryingly for the organisers, so did some producers who exhibited last year and merely turned up this time. As one said. “We saw all the same people, and saved a fortune”.
The imbalance of exhibiting countries was also striking: huge stands for Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia (all of whose wines are invisible in the UK) and a vastly reduced one for Australia and none at all for New Zealand.
Also striking was the change in the role of the event. Five years ago, people came to the LIWF to find out what they might be seeing in their countries today. Now, those same people are noting how the UK has slipped from being a leader into the role of follower. Today, when it comes to packaging, Finland is taking the lead, while wine styles are being pioneered in the US. British professionals may say, that they don’t want brands with names like Cupcake and Flipflop; that they don’t think Moscato (an 18-month old soaraway success on the other side of the Atlantic) will work here; and that British consumers won’t take to sweet red blends… But there is nothing on offer in London to suggest that the UK has any fresh alternatives to these US trends. The message from the LIWF is “business as usual” which, when you consider how little money is being made in the UK wine business, is hardly encouraging.
Hopefully Tesco’s Dragon’s Den stand and, our WINESTARS initiative which takes off tomorrow at 13.30 UK time have added a note of freshness to the proceedings. I’m certainly excited by the quality of the WINESTARS entries, the passion shown by their producers and their readiness to fly across the world at short notice to take part. With any luck, their efforts will be repaid with commercially rewarding listings.